05 August 2005

RIRA verdict ‘unsafe’

Daily Ireland

By Connla Young

Calls were made last night for an overhaul of the Irish justice system by leading legal figures.
The appeal was made after the Court of Criminal Appeal in Dublin ruled that the conviction of five men charged with Real IRA membership may be unsafe.
The three judge appeal court panel found that the men’s original conviction wasn’t sound after it emerged that three judges at their original non-jury Special Criminal Court trial viewed garda files belonging to the accused. The men were subsequently released last Thursday.
Last night a solicitor for the five men welcomed their release from Portlaoise Prison.
However Limerick-based solicitor John Devane spoke of his despair at the current state of the Irish justice system and called for the Offences Against the State Act (1998) to be axed. A controversial amendment to the act made in 1998 allows people to be convicted of paramilitary offences simply on the word of senior garda officers.
“If you are determining the guilt or otherwise of someone you do it based on the facts before you, not on how big a police file a person might have,” he said.
“The appeal judges agreed with this and believe the original decision is unsafe. Juries don’t get to look at someone’s file prior to judgment so why should a judge?
“People should be found guilty or innocent based on the facts. These men should not have been found guilty based on three seconds of video clip.
“Some people try to dismiss what I say by claiming I’m a republican supporter but I am a solicitor in this country and three judges agree with me.”
Trinity University law professor Ivana Bacik, who stood for the Labour Party in the last general election, agreed that the current system requires change.
“I think there are lots of ways the criminal justice could be reformed and reviewed.”
The five men charged with Real IRA membership, Limerick men Ciaran O’Dwyer (50), and Ultan Larkin (34), and John Murphy (25), Gerard Varian (46) and Aidan O’Driscoll (26), from Cork, were sentenced in June to a range of jail terms solely on the word of a senior garda and a three-second video clip of several of them entering a Co Cork Hotel in 2003.
It is expected all the men will appear before the courts next year when the charges against them will be dismissed or a retrial ordered.

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